11 July 2008

Winston Churchill, My Early Life, 1930.

When does one first begin to remember? When do the waving lights and shadows of dawning consciousness cast their print upon the mind of a child? My earliest memories are Ireland.

It was at 'The Little Lodge' I was first menaced with Education. The approach of a sinister figure described as 'the Governess' was announced. Her arrival was fixed for a certain day. In order to prepare for this day Mrs. Everest produced a book called Reading without Tears. It certainly did not justify its title in my case. I was made aware that before the Governess arrived I must be able to read without tears. We toiled each day. My nurse pointed with a pen at the different letters. I thought it all very tiresome. Our preparations were by no means completed when the fateful hour struck and the Governess was due to arrive. I did what many oppressed peoples have done in similar circumstances: I took to the woods.

War, which used to be cruel and magnificent, has now become cruel and squalid. It is all the fault of Democracy and Science. From the moment that either of these meddlers and muddlers was allowed to take part in actual fighting, the doom of War was sealed. Instead of a small number of well-trained professionals championing their country's cause with ancient weapons and a beautiful intricacy of archaic manoeuvre, sustained at every moment by the applause of their nation, we now have entire populations, including even women and children, pitted against one another in brutish mutual extermination, and only a set of blear-eyed clerks left to add up the butcher's bill. From the moment Democracy was admitted to, or rather forced itself upon the battlefield, War ceased to be a gentleman's game. To Hell with it!

Winston S Churchill. MY EARLY LIFE: A ROVING COMMISSION. Thornton Butterworth, London 1930.

Current Selling Prices
$600-$12000 /£300-£6000

Winston Churchill's memoir of childhood and early adulthood. It was published in 1930: Churchill was 56 and the Conservatives had the year before been defeated in the General Election; so began Churchill's 'wilderness years' during which he concentrated on writing. It would be over a decade before war and war leadership. My Early Life tells of the author's unhappy childhood, schooldays at Harrow, early military experience and foreign travel- action on the North West Frontier, moving on to the Sudan and then the Boer War. It was the basis of the 1972 film Young Winston with the now slightly underused actor Simon Ward (see below.)

The book, which measures 9 x 6 inches, contains 28 maps and illustrations including a frontispiece of Jennie Jerome, Churchill's American mother. The first state of the first edition should have 11 titles on the half title page - several variants are known. There are either 11 or 12 titles listed on the half title page, the cloth can be smooth or coarse, and the titling on the cover can be in either 3 or 5 lines. The cloth is prone to fading on the spine and the book often turns up in elaborate bindings- at present a garish Cosway binding is offered on the web at £6K with a crushed red morocco binding embossed and tooled in gold and with an inset portrait miniature of Churchill. Someone once said of these bindings that they are 'books for people who don't like books.'

The book is distinctly difficult to find in a jacket, a Churchill specialist who is presumably aware of how seldom it is encountered, wants to see a staggering $20,000 for a copy in a somehat chipped 'truly rare' jacket. This is the only copy available and it is not inconceivable a truly loaded punter might 'pony up' for it. Signed copies abound, but WSC is , so far, so well underpinned that his prices stay firm.

VALUE? A decent but not fine copy can usually be found sans d/w for around £200, a bit more in half leather, quite a bit more in full leather and, as noted above, loadsamoney in jacket. Churchill wrote a multitude of books and pamphlets. There are dealers, paying mortgages and raising kids, who deal only in Churchilliana. The book you want is 'Mr. Brodrick's Army (London, 1903)--the first issue (44 pages) was withdrawn and is worth north of £20K, the second issue (104 pages) is also seriously valuable. Early WSC pamphlets are always worth looking out for in political collections. In 2003 a British dealer found his early wraps (actually dark red card) book 'For Free Trade' (1906) while 'scouting' America (he declines to give the State) after a book fair for $5. In order not to rouse suspicion in the shopkeeper he asked for, and got, a 20% discount and turned his $4 into £20K on his return. These things are still possible. Do not confuse this with his 'Why I Am a Free Trader', 'Free Trade for Ever and Churchill Now!' or 'For Liberalism and Free Trade'--all bloody useful but a tenth or less of the value.

Outlook? Churchill collecting began in earnest in the early 1970s and is part of a trend of collecting books by powerful and epoch making figures. They are often sought by affluent and important, even self important, people. Persons of 'high net worth' with little time for reading -the book becomes symbolic of their achievement or aspirations or their heartfelt political sympathies and at the same time has status and, vitally, is a sound investment. Jailbird Conrad Black was able to write off all his purchases of trophy books as 'research' -to be fair several million dollars later he delivered a doorstop of a book- his 1,280-page biography, 'Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Champion of Freedom.'

Ronald Reagan is collected in the same way, there are mansions full of Napoleon collections (Napoleana?) and there is now a discernible rise in Margaret Thatcher values. Even the poodle Tony Blair is collected, his signature while in office being distinctly scarce--he was too important to sign autographs. This stuff will always be a significant part of book collecting, auctions and book fairs and shows no sign of abating. With Churchill the really big money is reserved for presentation copies to other bigwigs- in 1998 someone paid $145,000 for 5 volumes of The World Crisis inscribed by Churchill to Edward as Prince of Wales with 4 ALS loosely inserted. Also in 1998 a My Early Life -an 'advance presentation copy inscribed to Ramsay Macdonald - made $22000, and it would doubtless make more today. Whether he will be collected in 2020 or beyond is hard to say. What is certain is that there is a wealth of stock out there to keep auction houses, collectors and dealers supplied well beyond then.

No comments: